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Thursday, 25 March 2004
Page: 27294

Mr NEVILLE (3:09 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Education, Science and Training. Would the minister inform the House of any recent measure of the government's success in creating more training opportunities for Australians? Is the minister aware of other statements or policies in this area?

Dr NELSON (Minister for Education, Science and Training) —I thank the member for Hinkler for his question—

The SPEAKER —The member for Jagajaga would be aware of her status in the House.

Dr NELSON —and for the recently very good work that is shown to be being done at the Tom Quinn Centre of the Salvation Army in Bundaberg, taking young people from drug addiction through to training, jobs, careers and lives of hope.

As at the end of December last year, we now have 407,000 apprentices in this country. That is a 10 per cent increase over the past year. Commencements have increased to 283,000, which is a six per cent increase. And, most importantly, in traditional trades we had a six per cent increase in commencements in the quarter from the end of September last year—and more than half of those are young Australians, people under the age of 25 who are training and acquiring skills from which they will earn a living and be able to support themselves and their families and help build this country. I am asked about alternative policies and it is quite instructive to see the way the Australian Labor Party is actually working.

Mr Costello —Working?

Dr NELSON —That is a misnomer. I apologise to the House if I am misleading the House in that regard. It is very interesting to see the way the Labor Party is approaching the issues of training in Australia—and in particular the pricing of them. For example, the Labor Party is railing against the possibility that university graduates, when they have finished university, might have to pay up to 25 per cent more back through the tax system for their university education, to which the taxpayer has contributed three-quarters of the cost, and not pay a cent back until they are earning $36,000 a year. And yet there is not a word being said about changes to TAFE fees. For TAFE, students have to pay at the gate. They cannot get into TAFE until they have paid their TAFE fees and paid them up front. More than a quarter of the students who attend TAFE throughout Australia come from the poorest socioeconomic status suburbs in the country.

So a family in Green Valley writes to the Leader of the Opposition—and has two children. The first wants to do economics at Sydney University and the family is concerned about the possibility that the student might pay back $20,000 through the tax system once they have had their university education and in the first year will earn at least $37,000—and the Leader of the Opposition says, `Get the member for Jagajaga out there. We have to campaign against this. There's no way we want people training to be lawyers and doctors and economists paying any more for their education whilst the taxpayer is paying for three-quarters of it.' For the brother of the student from Green Valley though, who wants to go to the South West Institute of TAFE to do electrical engineering, there is a 188 per cent increase in fees that have to be paid up-front with a family credit card and an interest rate of 16 per cent—and what does the Leader of the Opposition do? Not a word. He says, `Go and see the member for Macarthur if you want something done about that.' The situation is so desperate for these families—

The SPEAKER —I warn the member for McMillan!

Dr NELSON —that the president of the TAFE teachers' federation and the president of the Australian Education Union has come to see me to say, `Noone will support us.' They are getting no support whatsoever from the Labor Party to stand up for poor struggling families who cannot get their kids into TAFE throughout Australia. There is a 300 per cent increase in TAFE fees in New South Wales, 25 per cent in Victoria—and what do I hear from the Labor Party on that? Nothing—50 per cent in the state of South Australia, and the Labor Party has nothing to say. You might think you are driving a social justice truck—

The SPEAKER —Minister!

Dr NELSON —but they do not give a damn for poor people that have to pay up-front to get into TAFE.

Mr Howard —Mr Speaker, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.

Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, could I ask the minister for education to table the correspondence from the family in Green Valley—

The SPEAKER —You may.

Mr Latham —because he was totally inventing that. It was a total invention in the House.

The SPEAKER —The leader has asked his question. Was the Minister for Education, Science and Training quoting from a document?

Dr Nelson —No, I wasn't.

Honourable members interjecting

The SPEAKER —Order—on both sides of the House, including those lounging! Treasurer! The longer I spend on my feet, the less time there is for the MPI and other business of the House.